This is the first post in a new, semi-regular series of interesting, colorful, and unique moths of Arizona and New Mexico. The first post is inspired by Ronald Parry’s talk I saw on Zoom last week (recording here on Youtube). In the USA, the label “moths” represent over 90% of all Lepidoptera species, but butterflies get most of the attention. We can save the Monarchs and appreciate/support their overlooked “cousins” too!
Dalcerides ingenita (no common name yet) is the only species in the moth family Dalceridae that makes it north of the USA-Mexico border. The caterpillars are covered in a gelatinous material to deter parasites and predators. The larval host plants are manzanita and native Emory’s and Blue oaks.
March 13, 2022. New Mexico’s state insect, the Sandia Hairstreak butterfly, is flying again in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque.
Range. Callophrys mcfarlandi was discovered in New Mexico, a state that still encompasses nearly all of its US range. It also occurs in West Texas and south into Mexico.
Life History. Larvae have a very restricted diet, eating only flowers and developing seeds of Texas and Woodland beargrass (Nolina texana and Nolina greenei). The similar Nolina microcarpa is widespread in New Mexico and Arizona, but it blooms in late in summer, which apparently is a deal-killer.
Left: old flower stalk of Nolina greenei; Right: hillside teeming with Beargrass
The host Beargrass species are not easy to find at nurseries, but this plant grows easily from seed. I bought seed from alplains.com and they germinated indoors before I transplanted outside in very sunny spots. Another option is to sustainably collect a small number of seeds from wild plants you encounter. They are ripe by mid-summer when the color is coppery. (Warning, they grow slowly, like related Agaves and Yuccas.)
Chances are, you have never thought of your garden – – indeed, of all of the space on your property – – as a wildlife preserve that represents the last opportunity we have for sustaining plants and animals that were once common throughout the U.S. But that is exactly the role that built landscapes are now playing and will play even more in the near future. If this is news to you, it’s not your fault. We were taught from childhood that plants are decorations and our landscapes are for beauty; they are an outlet for expressing our artistic talents and an oasis for having fun and relaxing in. And, whether we like it or not, the way we landscape our properties is taken by our neighbors as a statement of our wealth, our social status, and our willingness to follow cultural norms.
American Bumblebee: Despite being on the verge of the endangered species list, it is the most common to see in our area. Females, especially queens, are large and have the most black bands on their backs of any species here.
Bombus pensylvanicus sharing Common sunflower with Svastra obliqua (longhorn bee) in Albuquerque
Sonoran Bumblebee is a close relative of the American and can be hard to tell apart. You are more likely to see them outside in the low desert around Tucson, Phoenix, and Las Cruces.
Morrison’s Bumblebee is the third most common of the large, black and yellow bumbles and closely related to the Nevada Bumblebee (6th most common). This species is almost entirely yellow and its conservation status is Vulnerable.
Bombus morrisoni enjoying a Prairie sunflower in author’s garden
Now we get to the smaller, red-belted species. First up is Hunt’s Bumblebee, which “is a striking species, consistently marked with deep colors except in faded individuals.”
The Great Basin Bumblebee is number 5 in our area. This species also has yellow hairs on its face, but a different pattern of black, yellow, and red than Hunt’s, with red and black hair bands touching on the abdomen.
USGS/FWS Native Bee Lab have developed a simple Plant/Bumble Bee Survey that permits anyone to survey what plants Bumble Bees use anywhere there are Bumble Bees (literally). Our goal is to quantify which plants bumble bees use, rank them by that use, and also identify which ones they don’t use.
We call it “Ask a Bumble Bee.”
How can I get involved? Just email <email@example.com>
You only need a cellphone (for taking pictures of plants), pencil, paper
You can survey any location where bumble bees occur
Your garden, arboretums, parks, plantings, natural areas, refuges, urban, suburban, farm, wilderness, roadsides, and weedy patches are all places we would like you to survey. The richer the plant diversity, the more plants are competing for bumble bees and clearer preference will be.
You can survey a site repeatedly throughout the year.
Take a half-hour walk on whatever path you like
Take notes about all the blooming plants to 10 feet on either side of that path
Count all the bees along this route and note what flowers are they on
Take pictures of all the flowering species (so we can check ids later. Note: iNaturalist.org and apps are great for insect and plant ID.)
Take pictures of your field sheets and upload all the pictures using your phone (no apps to download!)
Beardtongues (or Penstemon, the scientific name of the genus) are blooming again in Arizona. With over 50 wild species in Arizona and New Mexico (and more than 270 total), there’s a lot of options for our gardens. We hope you’ll pick up a few of these plants when visiting your local, native plant nursery this spring!
Perhaps, you will enjoy tall, sweet-smelling blooms of Palmer’s?
How about the hummingbird magnet, Scarlet Bugler?
The lovely, purple hues of Rocky Mountain?
Or the hot pink, Northern Arizona endemic, Sunset Crater?
“For the most part, yes. Wild bees and honey bees need pollen and nectar to survive and establish their nests. Some bees can become pests when they build nests in areas where humans (or animals) live and play, but even those bees offer benefits as pollinators. Many bees look for open cavities or cracks in trees and walls where they can build their nests. To prevent bees from being pests in structures, patch holes or use screening. “
“Trees benefit residents in communities around the world by mitigating pollution and other environmental impacts of contemporary society and by broadly improving livability in cities and towns. However, many locales are feeling the heat as urban, or community, forests—defined by the U.S. Forest Service as “the aggregate of all public and private vegetation and green space within a community that provide a myriad of environmental, health and economic benefits”—struggle against a multitude of stressors stemming from climate change.”
“Time moves on, and the 2021 butterfly season has come to an end.
As I pull together New Mexico data for the LepSoc’s Season Summary, it seems worthwhile to highlight and expand on some of the wild and wacky aspects of the recent year in New Mexico butterflies, and to ask:
How do we mark our individual or collective progress toward greater understanding of our various butterflies?”